No More Pretending
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 3, 2006
Shit happens. Someone see that shit. Someone
Ask himself, can I sell that shit? He think
He can, he buy that shit. He think he can't,
He pass on that shit. So some shit get bought
And some shit just rot, but yo, any way
You spice it, it's all shit.
There it is, in a spectacularly eloquent (if forthright) nutshell: how the world works, by Kirk Wood Bromley, via Mobad, the protagonist of his newest play, No More Pretending.
The specific excrement in question is art, or more particularly theatre; but truth is truth, and that's what Bromley has for us in this exhilarating work whose very title makes it clear that bald-faced reality is the one thing on the program. In the play, two downtown indie theater-type actors meet after not having seen each other for a while. One of them, Al, has shelved his artistic ambitions permanently and works crunching numbers in a bank. The other, a brash young fellow named Matt but nicknamed Mobad, is still in the "biz," and even though Al is largely skeptical about Mobad's claims, it appears that he is tight with an A-list movie star by the name of Al Casino; that he's guest-starred on daytime hostess-with-the-mostes' Oompah's talk show; that he is, in short, in demand and on the way up. Neither wants to do what they both refer to as "the shit we used to do"; Bromley is showing us two authentic strategies for actors who are tired of doing their art without being paid for it—stop doing art; or stop doing "art" and get paid.
Eventually, a third actor turns up, Meg, who has not made either choice and instead continues as an independent theatre practitioner. The question, ultimately, is who is actually free among this trio; and the answer has to do with who is ultimately honest here, which is something I won't give away. You need to see No More Pretending for yourself, especially if you're someone who makes or once made the kind of theatre that Bromley has helped dub "indie," but also if you're a participating and curious citizen of the world in any capacity. The play—which is more compact than a typical Bromley show but just as dazzlingly mind-stretching and, if anything, more challenging to the socio-political-linguistic status quo that's extant in current American drama—may be viewed as a debate between pragmatism and a couple of varieties of idealism. All three of the characters, madly articulate, have a great deal that's valid to say and that's eminently worthy of hearing and thinking about.
The piece, which is brilliantly and economically directed by Howard Thoresen, is staged in the Chelsea loft of frequent Bromley collaborator Jane Stein, which is in itself a remarkable place to visit (Stein creates puppets, and examples of her work abound in the apartment). It's precisely the right informal venue for this rigorous but intimate examination of the world of indie art-making, inviting post-play discussion and feedback because it feels so much more like a salon than a show. There's no self-consciousness here, just passion and entertainment and an earnest desire to connect.
The three actors, who bear the same names as the characters that Bromley has unabashedly written for them, are outstandingly effective. Meg MacCary is warm and wonderful defending an aesthetic that often seems indefensible. Al Benditt does his usual expert job as devil's advocate and debunker. In the largest role, Matt Oberg (Mobad) is hilariously over-the-top as his character appropriates signposts from the culture that don't belong to him; it's a splendid showcase for this excellent young actor, and Oberg delivers a tour-de-force performance here.
In the end, though the quixotic indulgences of independence and artistry get looked at hard and ugly in the mirror, there's still a beacon of hope: "I’m done securin significant deals / Gonna deal in significance..." Real theatre doesn't need a real theatre; leave it to Bromley to find a "wooden O" in a Chelsea living room and sear an amazing story into an audience's consciousness while we sit on bridge chairs five feet away from the most modest of stages.